Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mission Trail, Tucson

We debated whether to go into Mexico through Nogales or not. Apparently the border crossing can be a bit of a hassle. The only thing you go into a Mexican border town for is cheap grog and medicines as well as local food. We didn’t think we could eat better mex than in Tucson so gave Nogales a miss. As it was on our way out of Tubac on Interstate 19 (a major route from Mexico), we were stopped at a border patrol checkpoint. The car in front had Mexican number plates and the four occupants were given a good old going over. The same officer merely looked at us and waved us through. A blatant example of ethnic profiling?
As the USA is the last world bastion of the imperial measurement system (in some cases their own eg. volume), I was surprised to see that that the I19 was signed (distances/exits etc) in kilometers. American cartographers however couldn’t seem to get their heads around this as a note on my map read “mileposts are in kilometers”. But it must be only a matter of time until they catch up. Road speed signs in some states have both and most grocery items have weight and volume in both.
The Spanish from New Spain (Mexico) came into what is now the USA as conquerors, colonizers or converters or a combination of all three. They were soon joined by the English, French, Portuguese and others as well as eventually Americans themselves to explore, map, exploit and subdue the North American continent. To quote Golay and Bowman “The Exploration of North America” (2003), the stories of these explorers contain elements of heroism, willpower and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship and physical endurance almost unconceivable in today’s world. They contain too elements of lust, greed, meanness, betrayal, rapacious exploitation, armor plated arrogance and unimaginable, sometimes genocidal, cruelty. South West USA has more than its fair share of fascinating stories of exploration including those of de Vaca, de Niza, Coranado and Kino et al.

In 1691 Jesuit missionary, Eusebio Kino founded the Tumacacori mission along with others, Calabazas and Guevavi, on the banks of the Santa Cruz River to convert the Pima Indians to Christianity. The area had an often turbulent history with an Pima Indian revolt, the banning of Jesuits and their replacement by Franciscans, Indian attacks (mainly Apache), Mexican Independence and the Mexican Wars.
At Tumacacori, the original Jesuit mission church was being replaced when the area, under constant Apache attack, was finally abandoned in 1848. The church was never finished.

Tumacacori National Historic Park has the remains of this mission church, San Jose’ de Tumacacori, an associated cemetery, mortuary chapel and portions of the convento area. There are also the remains of Calabazas and Guevavi but these are not generally available to the public.
We had this place to ourselves and spent a couple of pleasant hours investigating the church, its mortuary, graveyard, storage and living areas. It is a great place for pictures with the clear desert light, high blue sky and shining yellow adobe.
It was here that we saw our first roadrunner. No wiley coyote or acme dynamite in sight!

Tubac is the site of an old fort (presidio) built after the Pima Indians revolted at Tumacacori in 1751, killing more than 100 settlers. Nothing much of this building remains except for some foundations. It was from Tubac that de Anza set out on a number of overland expeditions to California eventually determining the site for the future San Francisco. The town is now an artists’ centre with about eighty specialty shops and restaurants.

Many of these establishments have very classy furniture, jewellery, pottery and artworks. I really liked the $US5000 (gulp!) mesquite timber table for eight but unfortunately it would not have fitted in the overhead locker of the aircraft. The eight chairs were of course extra.
After a cup of cappuccino we headed north with a small detour through to look at the Longhorn Grill (a favorite John Wayne haunt) with its unique entryway.

Next stop was San Xavier de Bac an active Franciscan Mission on the Tohono O’odham Reservation just outside Tucson. This church was completed in 1797 on the same site as a Kino mission and is considered to be the finest example of Spanish mission architecture in the USA.
Unfortunately half the exterior was covered in scaffolding due to an ongoing restoration project so it was difficult to appreciate the symmetry of the building so check out the web site to get a better picture than I could get.

Inside where much restoration had been completed was another matter.
When you enter the massive, carved mesquite wood doors of San Xavier you are struck by the coolness of the interior, and the dazzling colors of the paintings carvings, frescoes and statues. The interior is richly decorated with ornaments showing a mixture of New Spain and Native American artistic motifs. The floor plan of the church resembles the classic Latin cross. The main aisle is separated from the sanctuary by the transept with chapels at either end. The dome above the transept is 16m high supported by arches and squinches.

At least three different artists painted the artwork inside the church. No record of the architect, builders, craftsmen and artisans responsible for creating and decorating it are known. Most of the labor was almost certainly provided by the local Indians and many believe they provided most or all of the artisans as well.

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